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Curr Biol. 2014 Dec 15;24(24):2913-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.10.042. Epub 2014 Nov 13.

Asymmetric processing of visual motion for simultaneous object and background responses.

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Research Institute of Molecular Pathology, Vienna Biocenter, Dr. Bohr-Gasse 7, 1030 Vienna, Austria.
Research Institute of Molecular Pathology, Vienna Biocenter, Dr. Bohr-Gasse 7, 1030 Vienna, Austria. Electronic address:


Visual object fixation and figure-ground discrimination in Drosophila are robust behaviors requiring sophisticated computation by the visual system, yet the neural substrates remain unknown. Recent experiments in walking flies revealed object fixation behavior mediated by circuitry independent from the motion-sensitive T4-T5 cells required for wide-field motion responses. In tethered flight experiments under closed-loop conditions, we found similar results for one feedback gain, whereas intact T4-T5 cells were necessary for robust object fixation at a higher feedback gain and in figure-ground discrimination tasks. We implemented dynamical models (available at based on neurons downstream of T4-T5 cells—one a simple phenomenological model and another, physiologically more realistic model—and found that both predict key features of stripe fixation and figure-ground discrimination and are consistent with a classical formulation. Fundamental to both models is motion asymmetry in the responses of model neurons, whereby front-to-back motion elicits stronger responses than back-to-front motion. When a bilateral pair of such model neurons, based on well-understood horizontal system cells, downstream of T4-T5, is coupled to turning behavior, asymmetry leads to object fixation and figure-ground discrimination in the presence of noise. Furthermore, the models also predict fixation in front of a moving background, a behavior previously suggested to require an additional pathway. Thus, the models predict several aspects of object responses on the basis of neurons that are also thought to serve a key role in background stabilization.

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